And then there were three: MDTA narrows down potential third bay crossing corridors

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Corridors 6, 7 and 8 are the favored options among 14 original corridors for a proposed bay crossing. Image via MDTA presentation.

State officials have trimmed an early list of 14 potential corridors for a third Chesapeake Bay crossing to three, with an added “no-build alternative” that would leave things as they are.

The newest crossing would help carry more cars across the Chesapeake Bay, something Gov. Larry Hogan and other state officials have calling for address traffic congestion since he took office. The two current crossings are the Chesapeake Bay Bridge along U.S. 50/301 and the 17.6-mile Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel near Virginia Beach.

The three remaining options, explained and shown below, are “the only corridors to sufficiently meet the purpose and need in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA),” according to an announcement from the Maryland Transportation Authority this morning.

The MDTA and Federal Highway Administration launched a $5 million NEPA study in 2016 to consider environmental consequences of a potentially decades-long project further connecting both sides of the bay.

After two rounds of public meetings in November 2017 and May 2018, the remaining corridors under consideration are:

Corridor 6: A crossing from MD-100 to U.S. 301, connecting Pasadena to Rock Hall in Kent County, and then extending to Centreville in Queen Anne’s County. This would sit north of the existing Chesapeake Bay Bridge.

Image from MDTA PowerPoint presentation

Corridor 7: This would essentially be a third span, accompanying the existing two, within one mile of the current Bay Bridge.

Image from MDTA PowerPoint presentation

Corridor 8: A new crossing from U.S. 50/301 between Crofton in Anne Arundel County to Easton in Talbot County. This would sit south of the current Chesapeake Bay Bridge.

Image from MDTA PowerPoint presentation

A fourth option would be to build nothing.

Per today’s announcement, Corridor 7 seems to be the frontrunner.

“While the No-Build alternative and three preliminary corridor alternatives are being included in the federal environmental process for further study, traffic models indicate that one of the three, building a third crossing within the same corridor as the existing Bay Bridge (Corridor 7), would have the most positive impact on reducing traffic,” MDTA Executive Director Jim Ports said in a statement.

It’s also the least costly, based on estimates that basically say the longer and more complex a crossing is, the more it will cost.

Locals who’ve been keeping up will notice none of these are among the options that were closest to Baltimore City. A set of maps leaked this past February showed three routes that would have cut across Southeast Baltimore County and over the water to Queen Anne’s County. They would have originated (or ended, if coming from the shore side) near I-95 in Essex, near I-695 in Middle River or near I-695 in Sparrows Point.

Other spans that have been discounted would have connected Harford to Cecil counties in the north, and St. Mary’s to Somerset counties in the south.

The options are already drawing criticism from some officials and advocates.

Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman issued a statement saying he was “surprised” by the announcement that only territory crossing through Anne Arundel County is being considered. He said he opposes using any of the corridors for a new crossing, as Corridor 6 appears to cut through Downs Park in Pasadena, Corridor 7 through Sandy Point State Park near Annapolis and Corridor 8 through Beverly Triton Nature Park in Edgewater.

He also noted the study’s projections for increased traffic 20 years out “are based on an assumption that the Eastern Shore will develop in ways that its communities oppose.”

“I suspect that residents will protect their Eastern Shore land from development interests, and that bridge traffic can be better addressed with the forward-looking public transit options that this study dismisses,” he said, taking an environmental stance. “If we haven’t figured out how to get cars off the road by the time this bridge gets built, we’ll have much bigger problems to confront than traffic.”

The Maryland Transit Opportunities Coalition, which advocates for expanded and better-connected public transit in the region, called it a “financial fantasy” in a release. The group estimates the total project “could easily cost $5 billion to $10 billion.”

What’s more, they argue, the state would have to “at least triple” Chesapeake Bay Bridge tolls to pay for it–which they say would then push fewer people to drive, thereby reducing demand for a new crossing.

The MDTA said its study would include a second phase to determine where specifically the crossings would be built in the chosen corridor, and whether it would be a bridge or tunnel. The first portion of the study is being funded with toll revenues.

The agency plans to host another round of open houses in late September and early October to let attendees peruse the options, learn about the ones that have already been ruled out, read through public comments and hear more about the study process.

More public hearings will follow in fall of 2020, and officials are targeting a decision, with publication of an official environmental impact statement, in summer of 2021.

Details for the six planned open houses are below. The closest one to Baltimore City is in Middle River.

Tuesday, Sept. 24, 6-8 p.m.
Kent County High School
25301 Lambs Meadow Road, Worton, MD 21678

Wednesday, Sept. 25, 6-8 p.m.
Queen Anne’s County High School
125 Ruthsburg Road, Centreville, MD 21617

Thursday, Sept. 26, 6-8 p.m.
Calvert High School
600 Dares Beach Road, Prince Frederick, MD 20678

Tuesday, Oct. 1, 6-8 p.m.
Middle River Middle School
800 Middle River Road, Middle River, MD 21220

Wednesday, Oct. 2, 6-8 p.m.
Anne Arundel Community College
101 College Pkwy., Arnold, MD 21012

Thursday, Oct. 3, 6-8 p.m.
Talbot County Community Center
10028 Ocean Gateway, Easton, MD 21601

This story has been updated.

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Ethan McLeod

Senior Editor at Baltimore Fishbowl
Ethan has been editing and reporting for Baltimore Fishbowl since fall of 2016. His previous stops include Fox 45, CQ Researcher and Connection Newspapers in Virginia. His freelance writing has been featured in CityLab, Slate, Baltimore City Paper, DCist and elsewhere.
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2 COMMENTS

  1. I think that the vehicular traffic will increase to an unsafe level before new forms of transportation take over. I do not see mass transit as the answer, as traffic is essentially going to a lightly populated area (the Shore) with areas of interest too far apart to rely upon mass transit. In the short term, construction to avoid the north bridge being two ways at the same time would increase capacity on the bridge as well as shortening crossing time. That would mean that access to the appropriate bridge would be through over passes, so that the merge to three lanes would be eliminated, considering that 50/301 is three lanes. There would be a merge to two, but that would be in the direction that has the least traffic.
    My two greatest concerns are that the construction be done in an area where it would offer the greatest utility, convenience and safety, and that it would have the minimum impact on the Eastern Shore. More cars mean more people, and more people means more trash and more air and ground pollution. On the other hand, it is not appropriate to isolate the Eastern Shore.

  2. A couple of points:
    1-The current repairing of the west bound span, with subsequent lane closure, makes a case for another span of at least 2 lanes
    at the current location. And there will be more repairing as time goes on, until the bridges require replacement.
    2-And when the current bridges do need to be replaced, having another span of at least 2 lanes already build would be a pro-active step.
    3-The current bridges are at their architectural load capacity. Constructing/Adding mass-transit rail to either one of the current bridges is not possible. To add high speed rail requires the building of a separate span. Therefore, building another span of at least 2 lanes, with high speed rail makes sense: near the outlets, either east or south, build a parking depot for commuters and Uber/Lyft for taking commuters from/to their homes and vacationers with all their beach stuff to ocean resort areas.
    4-Hurricane Season. This is a ‘What If”; suppose there was a life threatening hurricane that required the mass evacuation of the Delmarva during seasonal beach vacationing. OC has upwards of 325,000 vacationers, PLUS all the DE beach vacationers, from Fenwick, South Bethany, Bethany, Rehoboth, north, PLUS all the full time residents in Worcester, Wicomico, Somerset, Dorchester, Talbot, Queen Anne’s, MD Counties, AND Sussex and lower Kent Counties, DE. Where do all the Blue&White Evacuation Signs lead everybody; to the current Bay Bridges. What a formula for disaster. Think there are miles and miles of west bound backed up traffic now. Frankly, it makes even more sense to have a bridge built south of the existing bridges, to Dorchester County, just below Cambridge, to get people off Rte 50 as quickly as possible WHEN, not if, such an emergency takes place.
    This location satisfies any number of conditions and situations; building a 4 lane bridge, 2 each way, and widen Rte 16 to 4 lanes, 2 each way, reduces both commuter and seasonal beach traffic, and provides a reasonable evacuation route off the Delmarva when that time comes.

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